Could these UC Berkeley students help build a 2nd Silicon Valley in India?

From right to left: Abhinav Kannan, Shreya Mondal, Arundhishaan Kanagaraja and Farhan Ahmed

A lot of 22-year-olds aren’t sure what they want to do with their careers, but not Farhan Ahmed.

Ever since he was a freshman at Sri Ramaswami Memorial Institute of Science and Technology (SRM) in India, he’s been involved in the startup business, beginning when he created his first app: SRM Foodies, a way for hungry students to have food delivered straight to their dorms.

“That was a big moment where I just wanted to learn how it went,” Ahmed said. “I wanted to experience the feeling of having a startup.”

Now, as part of his university’s partnership with UC Berkeley, Ahmed is one of 20 students studying abroad at the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (SCET) where he’s learning the practical skills he’ll need to make it in India’s burgeoning startup world.

During the first weeks of the semester, Ahmed attended his Intro to Silicon Valley class where he and his peers learned about common customs of the Bay Area’s tech culture: what to wear, how to pitch and to never take someone’s word at face value.

These are the real-life lessons that the students say makes studying at SCET so valuable.

At SCET, SRM students have a choice of taking classes that cover a variety of different topics relating to entrepreneurship and technology, such as data science, finance and leadership. They can also participate in the center’s “challenge labs” where they work to create their own startups relating to blockchain technology, cybersecurity, data privacy, disaster recovery in Puerto Rico or alternative meat.

“There’s practical sense to what I’m learning,” said Ahmed, who’s particularly interested in delving into SCET’s Blockchain Lab. “I get to gain hands-on experience.”

But where the students from SRM hope to apply that hands-on experience is vast. Arundhishaan Kanagaraja, 21, is working on a tool that can scrape data off talent pools, like Linkedin, for recruiters.

Abhinav Kannan, wants to use what he learns in his classes at SCET to address some of the largest social problems facing India. Overpopulation, poverty, child labor and high illiteracy rates –– these are all issues that he thinks technology can help solve.

But Kannan said that no matter what the interests of SRM students, now’s the time for them to get started on their tech ideas.

“Startup culture in India is booming right now,” Kannan said. “It is booming especially in places like Mumbai where there are people involved in finance and engineering coming together to create new opportunities.”

The President of SRM, Dr. P. Sathyanarayanan, has previously said that he hopes his partnership with SCET will help to bring new international and technological ideas back to his university so students are motivated to help build “a second Bay Area” in India.

Shreya Mondal, a 21-year-old computer science major, noted that her exposure in the program to new ideas about technology and to U.S. culture is already fueling her enthusiasm about entrepreneurship.

“They really are delivering everything that they promised about,” she said. “I’ve met Silicon Valley industry fellows, I’ve been pitching ideas. I’m really getting the entire experience.”  

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